Margarito Mendoza still remembers the time, when he was just five, that his grandmother first fed him magic mushrooms.
In a ritual to celebrate surviving childhood, Margarito underwent an ancient shamanic custom in his Mexican hometown of San Jose del Pacifico.
The boy was fed the hallucinogenic psilocybe mexicana fungus by his family, who then ‘guided him on his journey’.
‘I was very scared at the visions that appeared to me, because I had no idea why I was seeing them,’ he told MailOnline in an exclusive interview from the hostel where he now helps backpacking tourists on their own psychotropic experiences.
Margarito is a member of the Zapotec indigenous tribe in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca, who according to local accounts have been using hallucinogenic mushrooms in rituals for thousands of years.
‘My family all took them at the same time and we went walking in the forest,’ he said. ‘I heard the trees speak me and the wind flowed before my eyes like a rainbow river’.
The psilocybe mexicana fungus which induces hallucinations, lack of rational judgement and a sense of wellbeing, grows in the mountains of Oaxaca state from May until September.
The mushrooms are seen as sacred by many in the community and are regularly used in ritual ceremonies conducted by local shamans, one of which involves celebrating the passage of infancy into childhood.
Three-year-old Alejandro Garces, whose parents run the town’s oldest restaurant, will be fed the hallucinogenic mushrooms when he undergoes the ritual in June next year.
The boy, who is not even at school yet, will be dressed in the traditional garb of the Zapotec people and be taken to the hills above his village, where his parents will pick the mushrooms and eat them with their son.
When the hallucinogenic effect of the fungus begins to set in, they will begin chanting, giving thanks to their pagan gods for the latest member of their community.
‘We don’t see it as dangerous,’ said his mother Lilia Gomez, who herself consumes the mushrooms on a regular basis.
‘There is a lot of history and culture surrounding these sacred plants, and they link us directly with out ancestors.’
‘The mushrooms are good for the soul,’ said Eusebia Huajanab, a local witch doctor who conducts the ceremony following intense steam baths in her temazcal – a rudimentary sauna in which herbal tea is poured over red-hot stones for the purification of those inside.
‘The steam and local herbs in it help to clear the mind and prepare for the voyage the mushrooms take you on,’ she said.
The hallucinogenic fungus, although illegal for recreational use in Mexico, are nevertheless permitted for consumption in indigenous settlements where the prehispanic culture holds them as sacred medicine.
‘They are the teacher,’ said local woman Adela Ramirez, who sells the mushrooms preserved in honey in her shop to tourists for £40 per jar.
‘We use them not only to feel closer to nature but also to ask deep questions and find solutions to life’s many problems.’
As well as eaten fresh or preserved in honey, locals also consume the psychotropic drug in a tea after boiling the mushrooms in water or milk.
The town’s fame for legal mushroom use has started to attract backpackers travelling in Mexico, particularly those passing through the popular nearby beach resort of Puerto Escondido.
A number of hostels have sprung up in San Jose that now sell mushrooms directly to the youngsters, much to the anger of the local residents.
‘I don’t even set foot in the town because the locals know I’m here to offer drugs to the young people who come,’ said Ben, an Australian from Ballarat who has spent the past two years running the Sueño Atrapado hostel in San Jose del Pacifico.
‘I love drugs,’ he told MailOnline, whilst smoking his fourth large hashish-filled joint of the morning, ‘And they’re an experience I want to offer everyone who comes here.’
Ben says he has been filled to capacity at his hostel every since he opened his doors, and that his clientele come from across the world to consume the mushrooms.
He says the locals resent his involvement in the regional business of offering magic mushrooms to tourists, and that he has even received death threats from machete-wielding residents in broad daylight.
Navarro Namur, who told Ben he would cut his extremities from his torso last year while the pair scouted for clients as the Puerto Escondido bus pulled into town, says the Australian has no right to be doing business in San Jose.
‘The local people here have thousands of years of history tied to these sacred plants,’ he told MailOnline.
‘We welcome tourists to experience the full panorama of our culture, but we don’t accept backpackers coming here and selling the drugs just so they can get high.’
Navarro is a licensed shaman, and can thus legally conduct steam lodge rituals followed by mushroom ‘voyages’ for his clients.
‘To us that’s a very great disrespect of our traditions,’ he said.
The dreadlocked Australian sells the mushrooms alongside a steam lodge experience, before recommending that his guests walk the mountain trails surrounding the town to ‘get the most out of the experience’.
‘We’ve had some pretty bad trips in this hostel,’ he told MailOnline. ‘One American girl ate them and then began to convulse horribly twenty minutes later, screaming about being attacked by giant insects.’
‘I didn’t want to take her to the hospital,’ he said. ‘I just sat her down away from the group and waited for her to calm down.’
‘They’re the most powerful mushrooms I’ve ever taken,’ said Chelsey from Detroit, Michigan who allowed MailOnline to record her experience on camera.
After buying fresh mushrooms from a local dealer, Chelsey went walking on the mountain, where she spent the next few hours in what she described as a ‘very intense experience’.
‘I ended up hugging trees and screaming at the sky,’ she said. ‘I’m amazed I didn’t take any of my clothes off, I really wanted to.’
It’s estimated that around 200 backpackers a month currently arrive San Jose del Pacifico, a three-hour journey through the coastal mountain range of Oaxaca state, in order to eat the mushrooms.
The region is also popular among birdwatchers, who come to observe the unique species endemic to the sierras of southern Mexico.
‘The backpackers have caused a lot of problems in our town,’ says Eusebia Huajanab. ‘Where they have come, the drug dealers have followed.’
‘The town used to be a happy community where people would share their belongings,’ she says. ‘Now the drug tourism has transformed it into a very commercial place.’
‘I don’t know how much longer our ancient culture will survive.’